Solicitor General Reverses Position in Murphy Oil

This post is part of OnLabor’s continuing analysis of National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA.

Despite previously submitting a petition for writ of certiorari for the National Labor Relations Board, the Solicitor General’s office has reversed its position in the consolidated cases of Murphy Oil USA, Epic Systems, and Ernst & Young and urges that the Supreme Court find that class action waivers are enforceable.  In an amicus brief submitted to the Court on Friday, the Solicitor General’s office explained that it has rethought its support for the Board after the election of President Trump.  The Solicitor General’s office writes:

“We do not believe that the Board in its prior unfair-labor-practice proceedings, or the government’s certiorari petition in Murphy Oil, gave adequate weight to the congressional policy favoring enforcement of arbitration agreements that is reflected in the FAA.  More specifically, the Board’s view that the phrase “other concerted activities” in 29 U.S.C. 157 encompasses participation in collective or class litigation may reflect a permissible interpretation of that language, such that an employer might commit an unfair labor practice by discharging employees who initiated or joined such suits in accordance with other provisions of law.  It does not follow, however, that Section 157 expands the range of circumstances in which such litigation can go forward, by allowing employees who validly waived their collective-litigation rights under the FLSA to escape the consequences of that choice.  The Board’s approach fails to respect the FAA’s directive that arbitration agreements should be enforced unless they run afoul of arbitration-neutral rules of contract validity.”

This reading of the two statutes is a sharp departure from the government’s position in its petition for writ of certiorari where the Solicitor General argued:

“the ability to engage in concerted activities under the NLRA is not a mere procedural means for vindicating some other statutory right. It is, as the Board has concluded, ‘the core substantive right protected by the NLRA and is the foundation on which the Act and Federal labor policy rest….This Court has never held that arbitration agreements may waive such substantive rights or be given effect in contravention of the statutes that create and protect those rights.”

Again, the full amicus brief is available here.

The Sixth Circuit Holds that Class Arbitration Waivers Are Prohibited Under the NLRA

This post is part of OnLabor’s continuing analysis of National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA.

Bloomberg BNA reports that in National Labor Relations Board v. Alternative Entertainment, Inc., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit joins the Seventh and Ninth Circuits in upholding the NLRB’s position and finding that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prevents employers from requiring their employees to pursue workplace-related claims individually.  In contrast, the Fifth and Eighth Circuits’ reading of the Federal Arbitration Act allows class arbitration waiver provisions to be held enforceable despite the NLRB’s claim that this kind of arbitration provision violates Section 7 of the NLRA.

This decision comes two weeks before opening briefs are due in the consolidated case of Murphy Oil, Epic Systems, and Ernst and Young before the Supreme Court.  In the consolidated case, the Supreme Court will be asked to resolve the circuit split.

How Bad Could it Get (Legally)?

It’s a good moment to think creatively and expansively about how to revitalize the U.S. labor movement.  This important work is underway, with contributions from academics, labor lawyers, union organizers, and others.  Substantive debates about the future of labor law and labor organizing now populate the pages of publications ranging from the Yale Law Journal to Boston Review.  Much of this writing evidences an appropriate degree of optimism – the pieces assume a future in which, for example, progressive law reform might be possible, or in which workers can regain power through increased use of strikes even in the absence of law reform, or in which fundamental aspects of U.S. political economy (and political ideology) might be transformed.  This kind of optimism is necessary to visionary thinking, and it’s badly needed today.

But, I thought it might also be worth writing from the opposite perspective and asking how bad it might really/plausibly get over the next handful of years.  Most of us know much of this already, so you might wonder what the point of such a morose exercise would be.  The idea is not to wallow.  To the contrary, the idea is that putting in one place the major pieces of what could go wrong (legally) over the next few years could help as we continue to imagine and build a better future for the labor movement. As Van Jones put it recently, “hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst.”

Some caveats.  One, and most important, what follows are not predictions, and I do not mean to suggest that these things are likely.  Instead, these are thoughts about the kinds of negative developments that seem within the realm of the possible (even though, with respect to every one, I think the better arguments are on the other side). Two, given the limits of my expertise, I focus exclusively on how bad labor law could get, leaving to others the question of how bad things could get on other fronts.  Three, I may be wrong in two directions: omitting other possible problems and including things that aren’t plausible.  For that reason, we invite follow-on posts that offer either kind of corrective. Four, and finally, it might be worth saying that this exercise goes against my own nature, which, for better or worse, skews optimistic (as I’ve been critiqued for being).

All that said, here’s what seems within the realm of the plausible: Continue reading

Supreme Court Grants Cert in Class Action Waiver Cases

As reported in the BNA Daily Labor Report, the Supreme Court today granted review in Murphy OilErnst & Young, and Epic Systems, three court of appeals cases that address the question of whether class action waivers in mandatory employment arbitration agreements are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act.  We’ve covered this question in some depth, and will continue to do so now that the issue will be before the Court.

Gig News: In First Uber Classification Arbitration, Driver Ruled Independent Contractor

The Recorder reports that Uber has “successfully persuaded a private arbitrator that a California driver for the transportation company is an independent contractor, not an employee, in the first arbitration in the United States to test that issue.”  While drivers continue to challenge Uber’s mandatory arbitration agreements in court, the arbitrator’s decision represents the outcome of the first of what could become many individual challenges by drivers asserting proper classification as employees, if arbitration agreements are enforced.

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Gig News: October 28, 2016

In a major ruling with widespread implications for gig economy workers in the United Kingdom, an employment tribunal in London found that Uber drivers are not self-employed independent contractors, but rather Uber workers.  The Guardian reports that “the case could open up the technology firm to claims from all of its 40,000 drivers in the UK, and force other companies in the so-called gig economy to review the way that they are employing staff.”  Drivers will now be entitled to the national living wage, as well as paid holidays and paid rest breaks.  Uber is likely to appeal the ruling.

In the United States, Uber has again been sued by drivers in New York who accuse Uber of wage theft.  Bloomberg BNA notes that the drivers originally filed a class action alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law, but now four of the drivers “who haven’t opted out of arbitration agreements with Uber, will contend the National Labor Relations Act bars arbitration pacts containing class action waivers” as well as the same substantive FLSA and NY Labor Law violations.  As a result, “the six drivers in the original lawsuit who opted out of arbitration can more quickly move for court consideration of their ‘wage theft’ claims.”  The drivers contend that “Uber’s pay practices mean many drivers working more than eight hours a shift earn less than minimum wage and receive no overtime pay.”

Meanwhile, Uber is moving ahead with the formation of company-funded quasi-unions which will purport to represent drivers and yet promise not to strike.  According to Josh Eidelson of Bloomberg Businessweek, the Uber-funded Independent Drivers Guild was launched in partnership with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and claims to represent all 40,000+ Uber divers in New York City in arbitration hearings challenging driver deactivation, and also offers “such perks as discounted legal assistance and chances to air grievances at monthly meetings with Uber officials.”  However, the IDG wasn’t voted for by drivers and has no collective bargaining agreement, and some argue it represents an effort by Uber to resist true unionization.

Today’s News & Commentary — October 11, 2016

A new McKinsey study suggest the gig economy may not be revolutionizing  the world of work.  Quartz reports that McKinsey estimates the gig economy workforce “at 20% to 30% of the working-age population in the US and the EU-15, or some 160 million people,” noting that the gig economy is perhaps “reverting economies to pre-industrial ideas about work.”  The study goes on to connect self-employment to industrialization.

Meanwhile, a new study from the Center for American Progress calls for labor law reforms to strengthen unions, in order to improve our economy.  According to Time, the study find that ” a stronger labor movement may be the quickest way to spur the sort of broad-based growth (via wage hikes) that we need to create a more sustainable, robust recovery.”  CAP calls for reform to allow for industry-level bargaining, as opposed to firm-by-firm bargaining.

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